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Your exploration program will never be on schedule. Here’s a playbook to fix it.

July 25, 2023

Your exploration program will never be on schedule. Here’s a playbook to fix it.

Digital Transformation
For Exploration Managers
Drill Program Planning
Written by
Megan Gammie

Do all of your exploration programs run exactly to plan? 

  • All of the equipment and supplies arrive on-site, on time
  • Every shift goes off without a hitch
  • You never spend more than you budgeted
  • You never hit any ground that was tougher than planned
  • You always have exactly the right combination of rigs on site
  • None of your rigs ever sit idle waiting to be told what to do next.

Probably not, right?

The reality is that exploration projects are dynamic and unpredictable. And yet, for so long, the way that drilling is scheduled is in isolation of all the moving parts that need to happen to get that bit on the bottom. 


Let’s take a closer look at how exploration teams currently schedule rigs and why it consistently falls short, as well as a strategic approach that you can use to empower your team to hit metre targets on time, every time.

Standalone scheduling: what is it and why do exploration teams use it?

Standalone scheduling is when drill holes are assigned to rigs in a set order, but scheduled in isolation from all the other tasks that need to happen before, during and after a hole is drilled. 

Today, most exploration teams are using standalone scheduling to schedule their rigs.

Why? Because up until now, there hasn't been a way to quickly and easily link the schedule to what's actually happening on the ground in real-time.

Most of the time, a drill schedule is built in Excel by the exploration manager or senior geo. But in larger companies, it may be handled by the planning department, which usually sits in the head office, isolated from site teams.

The problem with treating scheduling this way is that drilling is so deeply integrated with, and influenced by, other aspects of an exploration program. And so often, carefully-planned schedules fall to the wayside before drills even arrive on-site.

When the schedule is built manually using Excel, It’s also incredibly difficult to make modifications based on actual drill production performance once bits are in the ground. Because you never quite know what’s under the surface until you’ve drilled it.

Now sure, you could try getting around this by padding out the schedule with a few days of lag time. But this isn’t helpful if you want to know what needs to happen on-site today, how long that hole will take to be drilled - or how you can plan better drill programs in the future. And it doesn’t help you organise all of the other moving parts like logistics, finance, geoscience, earthworks, and other tasks that depend on the drill’s progress.

Plus, it’s also very difficult to scale up your operations if you make a hit and need to add more drills to the program. Suddenly, there are a whole lot more moving parts - but you still have the same amount of admin resources organising the program.

Why drill scheduling is so hard...and why standalone scheduling is broken.

Drill schedules can be influenced by so many factors that are incredibly difficult to control and account for during the planning phase. And the more holes and rigs you have on-site, the more difficult it becomes.

So much can happen on even just one hole, blowing out the rest of the schedule. Things like:

  • bad weather
  • rig breakdown
  • unplanned standby
  • fishing
  • hitting water
  • incorrect drilling technique

….and so on.

With limited resources, it’s not always feasible to go back in and update the schedule every time there’s a disruption.

But when resources are limited, it's crucial to identify any issues that could derail the drill program and exceed the budget before it becomes too late to address them.

Why haven’t exploration teams done anything about this?

Addressing this challenge is easier said than done. 

  • It can be expensive: developing a new system is costly, so most teams try to do the best with what they’ve got - using the free or low-cost tools that are already available to them, even if they aren’t the best tool for the job.
  • Siloed teams: different departments operate independently, so there’s fragmented communication and collaboration, reinforcing the status quo.
  • Lack of solutions: until now, there hasn’t been a software solution designed to help address this issue. Existing solutions target producing miners with big budgets.

So what can you do about it - without breaking the bank in the process?

The playbook: how to link scheduling with logistics, drill production - and more.

The solution lies in linking scheduling with logistics and drill production in one central place. But how can you achieve this without spending endless hours on Excel?

Here is a five-step playbook to get you there:

1. Communication

One of the biggest challenges of drill planning is keeping two steps ahead of all of the different departmental areas that influence the path of the drill.

Approvals, heritage, earthworks/site prep, modelling, logging geologists and drill contractors all play important roles that impact the schedule, but rarely will they ever be in one room together, let alone looking at the same dataset.

The first step in linking this all up is breaking down the real or perceived barriers between teams so that they can communicate better with each other. By sharing workflow processes and data, teams can remove walls and improve collaboration, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Case study example

During a recent on-site training visit, our team worked with one of our customers to create a huge communication and data transfer map that showed where data flowed through the organisation. It highlighted where the ‘sticky’ points were in getting it to the reports that drive important decision-making in the organisation.

From doing this activity, they were able to identify that different teams were building the exact same reports in Excel - without even realising. As you’d expect, It was burning hours of working time per month on duplicate work.

Resolving this broken workflow was simple. By organising more frequent meetings with one another and sharing workflow processes and data, they removed walls between the teams to improve communication, decrease lag time in transitioning action steps between teams, and make sure the bit was able to get on the bottom as quickly as possible.

2. Data

Visibility of data is key to making informed decisions. 

Many mining companies capture important information like drilling status updates, approval information, field activity updates, sample locations, and general check-ins on paper or Excel.

Consolidating data from various teams into one unified system provides better visibility and informed decision-making across teams. Then, you can review data versus the schedule, and get the context you need to understand what’s happening. 

Note: this doesn’t mean pasting everything into a master spreadsheet! Keep reading to see why.

Read more about streamlining data management in mineral exploration.

3. Insights

Great data is about more than having a set of perfect spreadsheets - it’s leveraging it the right way to turn it from numbers into insights.

When data is displayed through visualisations, it becomes a lot easier to identify patterns in your daily operations and track changes over time. 

Take these examples:

  • Rig time activity breakdowns: see exactly how much time the bit is spending on the bottom versus other activities that could be blocking the rig’s progress, and compare between rigs to understand productivity drivers.
  • Progress mapping: see which holes are being drilled, waiting to be drilled, finished drilling or delayed on a map - including which activities are holding up progress - and which team need to take action to move the drill forward.
  • Consumable and cost tracking: see where costs are spiking and dive deeper into the reasoning behind these spikes or troughs by connecting insights to contextual production and activity data.

But building this in software like Excel or Power BI takes time - and it's not built for collaboration within the team.

Modern software tools like CorePlan offer the capability to do all of this and more in one place, with visibility across all your teams and projects, plus a clear line of communication between head office and field teams.

An Excel spreadsheet with lines and lines of numbers just doesn’t compare.

The result? When your teamare spending time looking at insights rather than data, they can be freed up for geology, making way more time with the bit on the bottom, and leading to more metres drilled.

4. Productivity

When you’re able to spend less time stuck in spreadsheets, you can spend more time doing real work.

When people and data are connected, less time is wasted, and more time can be spent on real work - like obtaining samples and getting closer to discovery.

It also unlocks possibilities like being able to adjust your schedule and drill plan on the fly so the team can capitalise on opportunities revealed by drilling samples in real-time.

Workflow mapping

5. Community

By centralising your team into a single digital space, it’s easy to foster a sense of shared responsibility, where everyone understands how their work impacts the schedule.

When drill progress becomes visible and accountable, everyone is aligned when it comes to hitting your metre targets - and this makes it easy to address issues like standby time with more effective communication.

When you can link everyone’s work to the overall progress, it fosters a sense of ownership over the drill program - and increases motivation to stay on track.

The right tools for the job

Modern software tools like CorePlan can help by bringing all this information together in one place where the entire team can view it simultaneously.

By mobilising your team and integrating personnel and field data with logistics management and scheduling tools, your team can work better together to drill more metres and finish on schedule.

Tools like Excel just do not compare!

Ready to hit metre targets on time?

Adopting a central management system that facilitates coordination of drill hole logistics and keeps drill programs moving forward empowers your team to hit metre targets on time. Bring the entire team into the fold, streamline workflows and leverage technology to optimise your exploration program. 

Read more about drilling management on our blog or fast forward to discovery with our drill management and scheduling software built for exploration teams.

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